Bread Givers is a novel written by Anzia Yezierska in 1925 that chronicles the life of an immigrant Jewish girl living with the family in Lower East New York. The novel depicts various several themes among them the various challenges that women face in their traditional families. One of the characters, Sara Smolinsky is particularly used by the author to portray this theme.
Sara’s father Reb Smolinsky is a staunch Jew whose entire life revolves around his religion. He devotes his entire time to studying the Jewish holy text, the Torah, and several other holy books. The spirit that he supposedly gathers from reading these texts fills him with a shining holy light that appeases others but to his family, the spirit causes problems when he confuses his spiritual wisdom with worldly wisdom.
The first challenge that Sara faces is abject poverty. She is forced to leave under extremely poor conditions most of which are of her father’s making. Her father’s lack of wisdom in American business practices often causes him trouble. For instance, he is swindled on a number of occasions. His insistence on basing everything on his faith renders him unable to improve the economic status of his family and they thus remain in abject poverty for a long time.
While trying to assimilate into the American culture, and as she tries to come up with a self identity, Sara is faced with a couple of challenges. She was born into a family or a community where women were considered to be the main source of income and as such, she was habituated to working hard so to provide for the family. She did not have any time for herself or anything for herself. Ideas had been instilled deep into her mind that she needed to earn money to support her family, therefore allowing her father with his duty of reading and teaching the holy Jewish text. Since her father’s preaching is actually the only way of living that she knows, she inadvertently has a torrent time seeing beyond this life and other things that may be out there. In many occasions, she reflects on the deep desire that she has of being alone. Unfortunately, this is not a privilege that her Jewish as well as her poor state allows. Even when she is making the conscious decision to leave her family in search of a new life, she has a hard time in making the decision. She is unfortunately forced to prioritize her interest at the expense of those of her family. For instance, in departing, she tells her mother that “I could see you later, but I cannot go to college later”. This is obviously not a simple decision especially given her family background.